House with the Yellow Door

20161117_100215Tom has a tradition of planting trees at our homes (we have lived in six in 21 years.) He also has had a tradition of painting our doors a warm red color. The red was inviting, I think.  At our house in South Carolina, he also painted the shutters to match. The shutters had been a dull gray color, and it was a perfect color change for curb appeal.

At our snug ranch house where we moved last year, Tom is getting around to various projects, including putting up shutters a few weeks ago (a good improvement) and painting the bland, white front door. We were going to use red again, but Tom unexpectedly showed me a yellow color on a paint card. Against the white-ish brick on the front of the house, it looked cheerful and bright. So we now have a yellow door.

Every time I pull up to the house, it makes me smile. Along with the field stone borders he put around the little pines he planted and the same border under the Magnolia tree, it makes for a neat front yard.

We have such nice neighbors here. Emily is dear friends with our nearest neighbors whose little granddaughter comes over to play, in addition to the family on the other block who are friendly and helpful. Then there is the lady across the street who comes over with her little dachshund she adopted. Each day she comes by after school for Emily (as she did in the summer), and they take the little dog for a walk. I think Emily is good company for the lady and the dog, once very shy,  is warming up.

By contrast, the political scene has never been uglier in our country. Social media is filled with the carnage. I read the news and try to digest what is going on and end up depressed and discouraged. Whichever way the election would have gone, this was a guaranteed scenario with great anger on one side or the other. In spite of victory laps from political conservatives, I remain convinced this nation is in terrible peril. There are no political answers in this divided country, ultimately. I believe that more than ever. The answer is spiritual, but nobody is interested in that subject at present.  They await miracles from the new political messiah. We will see.

My news about our cheery yellow door isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I thought of it as a metaphor in these dark times. As I have said before, life is really lived in the micro sphere of every day things and people. If Hillary Clinton had won and not Donald Trump, we would still get up every morning and do the little things that make up our lives. The little dachshund would still live across the street with her humans, Emily would still be found talking to the neighbors and making new friends all the time, and I would still spend my days making a home for my family as best I can.

I have learned that to be happy, we have to make a choice to be that way. There is a great deal of evil in the world, more now than ever.  We have all had wounds and hurt from that evil in our lives, some more than others. The losses evil people can cause are undeniable. Among so-called Christians, I am sorry to say that indifference, coldness and brutality are no less prevalent. Those perpetrating it and those who watch silently as enablers seem to go from strength to strength while their victims long for things to be made right. But, having said that, happiness and cheerfulness is still a choice. This is the only life we have, the one God gave us. I believe God does see the injustice and the evil, and in His time, He will vindicate, He will deal with those who have so disregarded His commands to love. Meanwhile, we are called to live in the light.

So don’t hesitate to “paint your door yellow.” Or to put it another way, smile just because, be thankful for what you have, and do a little happy dance, if nothing else, in defiance of the joy killers who seem to so populate the earth these days. I do that. I am home alone a great deal. I put on music sometimes when I am down. My kitchen has a big slippery, laminate  floor, and Em and I do our own dances in our socks until we laugh ourselves silly. Last night, we listened to Sleigh Ride and several other Christmas songs (I know, I know, it isn’t Thanksgiving yet.)  Whatever you do, don’t give in to the darkness. God is the author of joy, not despair. God is in His heaven still. By looking up and not around us, we can remember that best.

God is Near in Song

sing2Music has always been a big part of my life. Thanks to inexpensive LP records at Treasure Island (a discount store in our area back in the 70’s), we had more than just gospel music at home. Mom bought everything from John Phillip Sousa, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (I wore that one out), Johnny Mann’s choral music, E. Power Biggs organ albums, and many others. I played these on the stereo at home a lot. We took piano lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory as children, and my sister and I sang with a Christian singing group that traveled around the country each Easter break for years.  In addition, our Lutheran day school taught music reading as part of our curriculum along with sacred music in choir.   We learned American folk songs and lots of wonderful hymns that we sang in chapel and in class devotions.

Also, I heard gospel music long before it was so commercialized with slick pop stars, back when it really was about the great old songs, not so much the performers. As kids, my siblings and I fell asleep late at night  many times on our coats at the Christian radio station where our parents worked in Milwaukee’s central city, the Haven of Rest radio program  on the speakers in the ceiling. This recording here of their theme song with the bells takes me straight back to those times years ago.

As a young adult, I became familiar with a broader range of hymnody on CD, Psalm singing of various kinds (metrical Psalms from Scotland, Anglican chant, etc.), and the grand festival hymns of the English choral tradition. I interviewed John Rutter once about his wonderful compositions and I have the CD’s of his hymns that are unequaled, as far as I am concerned, in excellence.  I also bought St. Olaf’s choir CD’s, the choir of Gustavas Adolphus (I love their Scandinavian hymn CD), and so forth.

For a time, I drifted away from the gospel songs I grew up with, but as I have grown older, I find myself coming back again to the songs I used to hear in congregational singing and from recording artists like George Beverly Shea. In the last few years, these sweet old songs have been a tremendous comfort to me.

Scripture talks about Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—three separate categories, That’s because each category serves a purpose of its own. It’s not that you can’t sing a hymn of worship on your bed on a sleepless or pain-filled night, but often that is when the gospel songs mean the most.  They speak of God’s immanence, his closeness to us through Christ–our Savior who knows what it is to suffer and to walk on this earth as a human.  Hymns of worship emphasize God’s transcendence, his sovereignty and greatness, his holiness, something we also acknowledge. But when hurting, the closeness of God is what we tend to need most.

I once stood next to my grandma, Mary, in a church service where they were singing the Fanny Crosby song, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” I heard her sweet quavering voice next to me. Do you know, I never forgot it, and every time I hear that song, I remember her and her faith. The words of that song, penned by the blind Crosby,  reflect Luther’s deathbed words, “We are beggars all.”  No matter how strong we think we are, in the end, we are dependent completely on the Savior passing by our place of need. (See the story of Bartemaeus)

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Refrain:
Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.

Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.

Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee.

~ Fanny J. Crosby

I recently discovered a YouTube channel of congregational singing including many of these old gospel songs. I am a big fan!  When I can’t get to church, I watch these videos and sing aloud. I know many of these hymns by heart and don’t have to reference the words. Here is one such song that I love, and another beneath it. The channel is called “Faith for the Family” from Temple Baptist Church in Powell, Tennessee. If you’re blessed by these dear old songs, check it out and sing along. One of the things I notice are the young faces in the congregation, and many of them are really singing these. How wonderful that another generation will know these treasures.

Here are the words of this song, “He Hideth my Soul.” Another of Fanny Crosby’s compositions, the text is based on Exodus 33:22

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

Refrain

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.

Refrain

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!

Refrain

When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that despite the world’s foundations being rocked by turmoil and fear these days, our souls, as Christians, are hid with God, in Christ. He hides our souls and covers them with his hand.

This one is the earliest song I remember singing in church, back at First Christian and Missionary Alliance on 60th street in Milwaukee. It’s hard not to join in joyfully with that refrain. “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the people rejoice. O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things he has done!”

The Apostle Paul and Silas, imprisoned at Phillipi for sharing the Gospel, are recorded in Scripture as singing in their chains (just before the earthquake that set them free.  See Acts, Chapter 16) We cannot change circumstances in our lives so often, but we can sing anyway. Our song comes from the knowledge that our God “plants his footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.” He is with us, come what may in this life. And soon, we will see Him in a place where no tear will ever dim our eyesight. What a day that will be.

I hope these are as much of a blessing to you as they are to me!

 

 

Stop Enabling Bad Churches

Over the years, I’ve noted that not enough has been written on the topic of Bad Church Enablers. Much is available on enablers of dysfunctional and abusive people in family relationships, but not so much has been written about those who enable and support churches that have an established pattern of injuring church members–not the shiny people, but the little people who always end up getting hurt. There is a time to pray and stay. There’s also a time to head for the parking lot one last time and hit the gas without looking back.

If your church’s inner workings have more in common with an organized crime family, with circles of secrecy, political maneuvering as a matter of practice, free speech crackdowns driven by paranoia and so on, it just may be time to find the exit sign. If the ongoing climate at your church is a foretaste of hell with defrauding, injustice,  lying,  backstabbing, betrayal and eternal conflict, what in the world is the point? Do you seriously think God is going to allow any of that into heaven? Seek peace, and if you can’t find that in a Christian church, of all places, than head for the door.

Those who stay and keep these temples of doom afloat are part of the problem. You pave the way for others to be injured by staying and supporting a  church that refuses to address sin in a biblical manner. They never get away with it, and the conflict always follows the corruption. Always. Sin’s cancer grows and metastasizes in these places. It gets in the spiritual lymph system and ultimately kills whatever good there is.

Corrupt churches are the hallmark of our bleak times, and leadership policy and practice not based in the Scriptures quickly creates a spiritual destruction machine that takes in Christ’s sheep at one end and spits out their bleeding remains from the other. That is not too extreme a picture. Bullies, frauds, the entitled, the power hungry and their self-serving followers would soon find themselves with a much reduced ability to harm others if the good people, God’s true people, removed themselves from the seats and drove away once and for all.

exit2

 

On this Wednesday Morning

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about the written prayers of Pastor Johann
Habermann from 500 years ago. The little black book that was given to me
is full of the riches of prayers that contain and reflect Holy Scripture
in each sentence. You can read more about them in my former post. (All
of the prayers and hymns from Habermann’s original book are here in a
simple text file if you are interested. Bound copies are also available
online if you do a search.)

Here is the prayer for this morning. These prayers are instructive due to
their being rooted in the Word of God. The further we stray from Scripture,
the more our prayers can err, even if we don’t mean to pray amiss. These prayers
are reverent and humble, the only kind of prayer our Lord will hear. He rejects
the prayers of the self-righteous and haughty, but he hears the pleas of his children
who love him.

Almighty, All-gracious God!

All Thy creatures should praise and glorify
Thee. The birds under the heavens magnify Thee with lovely songs early
in the morning as their Lord and Maker. So will I too heartily thank
Thee, that Thou hast preserved me under Thy shelter and protection
during the night now past, and all my life even to the present hour,
and awakening me from the sleep of the darkness of this night, hast
suffered me to arise again in health and joy. I pray Thee for the sake
of the saving resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that Thou
wouldst ever keep me together with all my loved ones from all danger
and evil.

O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance: feed
them also, and lift them up for ever. Fill me also at this early hour
with Thy grace, that I may pass this day rejoicing in Thy commandments,
and free from mortal sin. Let me experience Thy grace as a dew from the
womb of the morning, and as the refreshing moisture that diffuses at
the break of day, making the land fruitful. Thou wouldest spread Thy
goodness over me, that I may gladly and zealously do Thy will. Govern
me with Thy Holy Spirit that I may serve Thee in righteousness and
holiness of truth, well pleasing in Thy sight. Guard me that I sin not
against Thee, nor defile my conscience with carnal lusts that militate
against the soul. Keep my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking
guile. Foolish talking or jesting, unbecoming of Christians, be ever
far removed from me.

Grant, that I offend none with my lips, nor backbite,
judge nor condemn, defame nor vilify. O that I might put a
lock to my lips and seal them with a strong seal, that they bring me
not to naught, nor my tongue destroy me. Give me grace that I may know
my shortcomings and correct them, and not fall into Thy righteous
judgment and condemnation. Grant my prayer, O Eternal God, for the sake
of Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

prayer

A Beautiful Morning

SunriseIt’s 6:15am  and having been awake for an hour already, I shuffle back to the bedroom to make the bed. Tom is somewhere zooming down the interstate to work already. It looks like sunshine today according to the forecast.

I pull up the bedding on one side and make my way to the other side. Suddenly,  the comforter is thrown back, startling me. A small, rosy face appears and a girly laugh rings out.

“Surprised you, didn’t I?”

It’s Emmy, my early bird, up already on this Monday school morning. She’s all warm and sweet in her pink penguin nightgown, hair in frowzled disarray.

Our early rising buys us time to  play a bit. We discuss and experiment to find out which toe is most ticklish, which, of course, leads to lots of giggling. Em then talks about her bike and how excited she is to practice after school, so she can ride with her daddy on the bike trail near our house.

Emmy retrieves her navy school tights from the drawer to get dressed and laments the discovery of a small hole in one foot. “It’ll do for today, but who knows what it’ll look like tonight,” she says, rolling her eyes dramatically. For some reason, that makes us both laugh.

Face washed and her hair affixed with a bright pink clip,  we go to see about breakfast. She has recently discovered the delicacy of toast sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, so I assure her that is on the menu.

An egg goes into the pan, a jumbo one, and she comments on the enormous hen that must have laid the egg. She eats a banana and drinks orange juice from a pink straw. Then the much anticipated cinnamon toast.

“This is very RICH,” she says, licking the sweetness from her lips.

She tells me they are learning a song in choir called, “Whistle a Happy Tune” and sings a few snatches for me. She says that she isn’t sure when they’re singing it but promises to tell me when they let her know.

She asks if she could have spaghetti and meatballs in a thermos today instead of a sandwich. I remember we have a can of such and agree that it sounds like a good Monday lunch. Preparations are made.

On this third day of spring, I note that the sun is already coming through my kitchen windows that face to the east.   There’s a feeling of hope in the air. Thanks to my new hearing aids, I hear the birds twittering in the towering pine out the window. They feel it, too.

We head out the door, and it is determined that Em has too much to carry into school by herself today, so I promise to come in with her to carry her heavy backpack. For some reason, this makes her very happy.

We are the first to arrive as we often are.  Both of us are early birds today. Inside the classroom, she shows me her desk which has been moved, I am told. I admire it all and help her get her things hung up.

Finally, I tell her good-bye and start for the door, but she runs and throws her arms around me. My little girl and late in life project, my unexpected blessing and head lifter.  As I leave, one of her friends comes down the hall all smiles. I feel a rush of gratitude for the little Christian school she attends and the excellent people who make the environment such a positive place to learn.

The chilly, fresh air hits my face as I make my way back to the car.

What a beautiful morning, I think. A beautiful, lovely morning.

And I am thankful to God for it.

 

 

 

 

Love is a Verb

The current model of girlhood in our culture, beginning at a very young age, is disturbing on many levels.

Emily asked me recently if she was pretty. I assured her that she was, and then we talked about what made girls really lovely. I told her that beautiful girls are the ones who care about other people and who know how to use their hands and their minds to do something useful for others.

We talked about kindness and how that makes people attractive. “You can have an outside that’s shiny and perfect, and yet have a rotten, ugly inside,” I told her. She took all of that in thoughtfully.

The concept of sacrificing for others isn’t a celebrated theme in our culture. Many young girls spend countless hours texting their lives away with nonsense, wasting precious time, living for themselves, while parents sacrifice to give them the latest technology. It’s foolish and a tragic use of their minds, bodies and gifts.

Countering the current mentality is not easy, but as mothers, we can demonstrate service towards others and love in action, and we can pray that the model we give our girls is one of usefulness rather than self-worship and sloth that is sure destruction.

The best message we can give our daughters and sons is that love is action, not just words. Whether ironing school blouses or making a meal or shoveling or whatever it is that comes to us to do, all of it is serving those we love. Even if we think we are unappreciated, these acts of service are never wasted. It does something in our own character. As Christ-ians, if we aren’t doing this, we are using a name we are not entitled to. Love acts. Anything less is fraud.

ironing

Keep on the Sunny Side!

After we have prayed and asked for Divine help, after we’ve asked whether there’s anything we can do in a bad situation, we have to walk towards the sun (Son!) and carry on.

I have always loved this little song. Keeping on the “sunny side” doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge and do what we can when evil is staring us in the face or someone else in the face, but ultimately, we can’t let evil overcome good. With social media putting every societal and personal evil on graphic and horrific display, it’s a choice to not be enthralled by the dark side of life, and to stay firmly on the sunny side instead.

Many of us with children to raise in our dark times are even more acutely aware of this need. Yes, there are many frightening and horrible things on the landscape, but where we can, we are called to create a safe place where our families can still see and feel warmth, love and beauty that God provides each day.

Our little girl, Emmy,  adores this song. I have to repeat it several times when I play it, because she dances around with her dolls when I do.

Call Back, if You Get Ahead

I read this post today from “Streams in the Desert.” Have you ever had someone “call back” and encourage you in your life?

Life is a steep climb, and it does the heart good to have somebody “call back” and cheerily beckon us on up the high hill. We are all climbers together, and we must help one another. This mountain climbing is serious business, but glorious. It takes strength and steady step to find the summits. The outlook widens with the altitude. If anyone among us has found anything worthwhile, we ought to “call back.”

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
’Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;
That, when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the very air was still.

Oh, friend, call back, and tell me for I cannot see your your face,
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky
If you have gone a little way ahead, oh, friend, call back—
’Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.
—Selected

From “Streams in the Desert”

This song says it all.

Next Thursday We Will Sing

Our Thanksgiving plans are set, and Lord willing, we will have a houseful as we gather in gratitude for all the things the Lord has done. We are not only grateful, we are grateful to the Giver of all of it.

These are dark and dangerous times. Not only is the world as a whole in great turmoil, but so many that we know are going through deep trials of various kinds. Those of us in our family have also faced great difficulty in various ways in the last year. That changes nothing as we gather to say thank you to the One who sustains us all.

I told my sister that when she and her husband, Russ and their four children come, they should bring their musical instruments. Russ and Lisa’s children sing as well as play instruments, and I am printing off song sheets for us all. Even the grandsons, Peter and Max, can play the rhythm instruments and make music.

The first song we will sing is a song written several centuries ago in the middle of a horrific time in history. The simple hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, was not written in an American suburb in a centrally heated home with food in the cupboards and a fully plumbed bath and warm beds. It was written in a time of war, with death and want all around.

Here’s a little glimpse of the environment in which a humble pastor, Martin Rinckart lived:

The plague of 1637 visited Eilenburg with extraordinary severity; the town was overcrowded with fugitives from the country districts where the Swedes had been spreading devastation, and in this one year 8,000 persons died in it. The whole of the town council except three persons, a terrible number of school children, and the clergymen of the neighbouring parish, were all carried off; and Rinckart had to do the work of three men, and did it manfully at the beds of the sick and dying. He buried more than 4,000 persons, but through all his labours he himself remained perfectly well. The pestilence was followed by a famine so extreme that thirty or forty persons might be seen fighting in the streets for a dead cat or crow. Rinckart, with the burgomaster and one other citizen, did what could be done to organize assistance, and gave away everything but the barest rations for his own family, so that his door was surrounded by a crowd of poor starving wretches, who found it their only refuge.

That was the state of things. Here’s more:

After all this suffering came the Swedes once more, and imposed upon the unhappy town a tribute of 30,000 dollars. Rinckart ventured to the camp to entreat the general for mercy, and when it was refused, turned to the citizens who followed him, saying, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.” He fell on his knees, and prayed with such touching earnestness that the Swedish general relented, and lowered his demand at last to 2,000 florins. (Source: Martin Rinckart)

In this environment of suffering and want, the pastor wrote a brief hymn of thanks to His heavenly Father. Here are the words.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Our daughter Emily, age 6, has learned this hymn at school. She will lead us off by singing the first stanza on Thanksgiving Day, and we will all join in the rest, with Tom on trumpet, Will at the piano, and Rachel on Viola and the grandbabes on the rhythm instruments.

In light of the manifold blessings we enjoy every single day, how can we do any less but thank God? If Rev. Rinckart could pen this hymn in the midst of such suffering, what is our excuse for not recognizing God’s blessings?

I hope all of you have a joyful Thanksgiving time, wherever you may be, in whatever you are facing. God has not forgotten you.

thanksgiving-songs